Betty Blue Eyes
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
July 9 – August 3, 2014
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Producers: Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Mercury Theatre Colchester, Salisbury Playhouse, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Cast Includes: Amy Booth-Steel, Haydn Oakley, Sally Mates, Matt Harrop, Tobias Beer, Kit Benjamin, Adam C Booth
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins.
Based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Bradbury’s much acclaimed film screenplay, A Private Function, starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin, Betty Blue Eyes is a production that, really, only we Brits would get in its entirety. Full on farce, mixed with some great musical numbers, is a part of the tapestry of British life – just look at pantomime – and the only things that stops this show from teetering over the edge into absurdity are the superb performances, the exceptional choreography and the exquisite musicianship. Oh, and a set that almost deserves a round of applause of its own.
In the sleepy, class riddled town of Sheppardsford, a very private – very exclusive – function is being planned to mark the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, in a post-war, austerity driven Britain still being hard hit by rationing. A private function to which the Chilvers are not invited, but to which the “guest of honour”, Betty, most definitely is.
As down-at-heart Joyce Chilvers, wife of kind-hearted chiropodist, Gilbert, Amy Booth-Steel is the very personification of wannabe middle class England, yet never over eggs the pudding in maintaining the audiences empathy for her position. Added to this, is a superb singing voice that simply soars above the live band hidden discreetly off-stage.
Haydn Oakley too, as Gilbert, tugs at the heart-strings so much it is as though he is begging to be cuddled and made to feel safe and warm, which of course is what we are meant to feel, given the adversity with which he is faced at every turn by life’s cruelty.
Sally Mates as the greedy Mother Dear, who is all pre-war remembrance and little input but for running down poor Gilbert at every turn, sparkles as brightly as Betty’s eyes, with a wit and guile and craft that is truly stunning, whereas Kit Benjamin as Dr Swaby and Tobias Beer as the Meat Inspector from Hell, Mr. Wormold, turn up with two sensational performances that personify the greed and power-mad lust that is still recognisable in today’s society.
If there is one qyuibble, some of the musical numbers are tad over long, and a little Lloyd-Webber repetitive, which takes away somewhat from the pace and confuses the story a little in places. This said, however, Betty Blue Eyes remains an adorable slice of Merry Olde England that will have audiences young and old chuckling away in their seats, whilst being fed with the moral that whilst greed may not necessarily be good, it always helps to have a Plan B when fate knocks on the door.